It’s not an exaggeration for us to state that sustainability is a guiding principle in all we do at Tovi Sorga. Since Tovi founded the brand with his beautiful, hand-crafted printed leather accessories in 2009, his intention has always been to provide consumers with truly life enhancing, responsibly created accessories that buck the encroaching throwaway trend and provide lasting enjoyment.
But however noble intentions may be, the greatest challenge of running a company is to create practical solutions that continue to meet your ideals. In reality that means balancing cost-based decisions alongside necessity and personal ethics. It’s a constant juggle between short-term compromises and long-term progress.
All Tovi Sorga products are designed first and foremost to be useful, practical and highly functional accessories for day-to-day use. Our items are investment pieces, and the quality of the craftsmanship and materials we use is therefore hugely important. Our principle aim is to reduce the quantity of plastic being spread into landfill, and this informs all our product design decisions, including the use of microsuction in our phone cases, rather than traditional hard plastic cases. You can find out more about microsuction here.
Printed leather is fairly rare within the industry because of the costs involved in this specialist process and the difficulty of preserving print during heavy-duty use. All leathers, even plain natural hides, have some kind of finishing layer – often containing polyurethane - applied to them to support them in their different future functions, from upholstery to saddlery and footwear. Printed leather is typically covered in noticeably thick layers of heavy duty plastic lacquer to protect the print from rubbing and scuffing over time.
This is a problem we’ve spent over a decade solving at Tovi Sorga by developing a technique that protects the high-definition print surface while reducing our leather finish down to the most microscopic layer of PU. It’s taken years of development, and we’re proud to have recently removed solvents from our finishing layers, while preserving our renowned buttery texture that is both tactile and durable for everyday use.
We’re constantly tweaking and refining our finish as new ecological solutions come onto the market or to adapt to different hides and the specific needs of new product types. We’ll keep you informed of any significant changes over coming months that affect our ongoing quest to support sustainable leather.
The pros and cons of biodegradable leather
In an age where veganism has never been so fashionable and cute animal videos take up at least 25% of the average social media feed, we’re used to being asked why we continue to specialise in natural leather at Tovi Sorga. The health benefits of eating more plant-based diets are irrefutable and climate science statistics relating to the ecological effects of industrial meat farming are increasingly concerning.
But the fact is that globally, meat consumption is on the rise and the only alternative to leather production for the immense quantity of hides produced by that industry, is to throw them into landfill.
‘Vegan’ leather and our commitment to reduce plastic
While Tovi Sorga will be continuing to celebrate the ancient tradition of natural leathercraft for the foreseeable future, we’re also keen to support our customers in their vegan choices. The main issue with sourcing a ‘vegan’ alternative to sustainable leather is that most of the current options contain a substantial quantity of non-recyclable plastics.
Typically, whenever you read ‘vegan’, ‘faux’ leather or ‘pleather’, you can expect it to be made from either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane that has been bound onto a synthetic fabric. PVC is a rigid plastic that needs to be soften by the addition of phthalates – an extremely toxic group of chemicals know to cause harm to the human organs as they leach residues over time. Greenpeace claims ‘PVC is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics’ due to the damage caused at every stage of its life span– through production, use and decomposition.
Though less toxic, polyurethane pleather– created by turning polyurethane into a liquid using harmful chemical solvents so that it can be painted onto a fabric – is unfortunately not a significantly better solution. Both materials decompose into microplastics that end up in our food and water cycles and take up to a thousand years to fully degrade. They’re also famously undurable and products made of plastic vegan leathers tend to have a fairly short lifespan, meaning consumers need to replace their purchases more often.
Plant-based vegan leathers
As part of our ongoing research and development at Tovi Sorga, we are in the process of testing and trialling a range of the plant-based leathers making a recent appearance on the market, including materials created from pineapple, mushroom and cactus. Plant-based leathers typically still contain some plastic to emulate the tactility and strength of traditional leather, but in significantly lower quantities than their PVC or polyurethane counterparts.
Unfortunately we haven’t yet found a solution that provides both the flexibility and long-term durability that we can rely on from natural leather to create lasting, quality accessories suitable for everyday use. However, it’s high on our list of priorities to be able to offer you responsible vegan alternatives. We’ll keep you posted...
The Quest for Biodegradable Packaging
We’ve made a ton of improvements to our packaging over the past few years, although we still have a little way to go before being 100% plastic free.
Here’s a breakdown...
- Postal mailing boxes: Minimum 90% recycled cardboard, 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable. Contains no petroleum-based plastics. Printed with water-based inks.
- Large mailing bags: fully recyclable sugar cane created through 100% carbon neutral processes.
- Small mailing bags: Biodegradable polythene with added TDPA (Totally Degradable Plastic Additives) enabling them to biodegrade back into carbon dioxide, water and biomass in a matter of months or years rather than decades or centuries.
- Tissue paper: Acid-free, 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable.
- Gift boxes: 40% recycled boxboard; 100% recyclable, with non-recyclable and non-biodegradable foam insert.
- Gift wrap ribbon: non-recyclable and non-biodegradable nylon satin (in trial phase while we source a biodegradable alternative)
- Glassine envelopes: acid-free 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable paper
- Stickers and labels: all our labels are now 100% biodegradable paper and we are in the process of replacing all our gold stickers (containing plastics) with 100% biodegradable paper stickers.
One of the biggest contents of our landfill bins is the plastic backing that comes with paper labels – which any e-commerce based company will tell you are an asset we can’t yet do without – from shipping labels to barcoding and addresses. If anyone can help us source a range of labels which are supplied on non-plastic backings, we’d be very grateful to hear about them.
So this is Tovi Sorga Ltd’s sustainability review for 2020, and it’s something we share with you here today with a view to benchmarking both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It’ll serve as a reference point as we continue to make improvements along our journey and enable us to be transparent with you – the customers who enable us to do what we love – so that you’re confident about what you’re investing in.